I very recently ran the Popular® Brooklyn Half 2018. It might be a stretch describing it as a run given the fact that I was trudging along at a snail’s pace. It sure did go down as the slowest among the three half-marathons that I have conquered to date; however, it was the most gratifying of the conquests by not just a mile, but by all 13.1 of them.
Let’s rewind back to December 4, 2017. After having spent sixteen odd months plying my trade within Goldman’s Securities Division, I had secured an incredible move to the highly coveted Investment Banking Division at the firm. While this move was accompanied by many a reward, the long hours, along with the stressful and unpredictable nature of Investment Banking, took a heavy toll on my physical well-being. The double-whammy of stress-eating and a highly erratic and infrequent workout routine made nearly everyday feel like a cheat-day. The weighing scale seemed to agree as well.
I still recall having a conversation with a fellow Analyst regarding the exponentially deteriorating nature of my physical health. She tried empathizing by revealing to me that she had gained ten pounds in close to six months on the desk. Ten seemed like a rookie number to me as I had smashed and surpassed that milestone in quite some style, having done so in considerably less time.
While the gains goblin may have been devouring my muscular gains and converting those into fat, I was making all sorts of intellectual gains, which served as a source of comfort. Thus, it wasn’t all loss-making. The point that I am trying to drive home through this is that we oftentimes take our achievements for granted and tend to overly scrutinize or hone in on our faults. I am by no means encouraging complacency or mediocrity. Simply put, I am of the opinion that our grip on life should neither be too loose nor too tight; it should be akin to gripping a golf club – firm yet loose enough to allow for flexibility and full range of motion, which maximizes both distance and accuracy of the stroke. This truth of life can also be explained by virtue of bandages, which feel comfortable when neither too tight nor too loose. All in all, I have learnt to never take myself too seriously and to avoid being overly self-critical and be more self-compassionate instead. Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping. Offer yourself the same advice and comforting words that you would offer to a dear friend who finds himself / herself in a spot of bother.
Back to the work desk. Slowly but surely, as time went on, the experience that I was amassing was serving as a natural stress inoculant. I was beginning to get more comfortable being uncomfortable. I was now tackling tasks in a smarter and more efficient manner by learning from the best in the business. As a result of these factors at play, not only was the stress-eating tendency waning, but I was also making amends in terms of getting my physical health back on track. From double-whammy to win-win!
Having said that, I was still skeptical about how long this positive momentum would last. I felt as if a large part of this purple patch could be attributed to proceedings at work being relatively slow by Investment Banking standards. I felt that a stronger wave of work pressure would leave me horribly exposed and back to square one, if not worse off than what my plight was prior to the advent of the resurrection. In a nutshell, as Warren Buffet once said – “You never know who’s swimming naked until the tide goes out”.
Fearing this impending tsunami, I was struck with the idea that signing up for a half-marathon would serve as the motivating force to prevent me from falling off the wagon. In general, having explicitly defined goals for yourself serve as a source of healthy pressure to stay the course by giving you something to work towards. Moreover, having completed two half marathons in the past served to mollify my apprehensions to some extent.
I promptly purchased a bib from a work colleague who had injured her knee. Given that the half-marathon was two and a half weeks out from the date of purchase, I knew that I had my task cut out; however, I was willing to take that calculated risk. Over the years, I have developed a penchant for taking calculated risks. While some materialize splendidly, others fail spectacularly; however, I sincerely believe that as long as you stay true to the “risky” endeavour by giving it your 120%, you either win or you learn. Setbacks make for captivating stories and aid in maximizing your experiences, which in turn improves judgement thereby ultimately making you a better calculator of risk.
No sooner had I purchased the bib, than the tsunami struck. The week and a half that ensued ranked high on the horror-scale amongst Banking horror stories. The sleep deprivation and overall mental exhaustion paved the way for negative self-talk. Not having gotten off the mark as yet in terms of practice runs under my belt, my inner critic tried cajoling me into contending with the notion that even the most valiant of attempts would come up short. Thus, on multiple occasions during this cycle, I was tempted to sell my bib. However, I have learnt the hard way that as tempted as you may be to react in the heat of the moment when tempers are getting frayed, waiting for even as little as 15 minutes before reacting in a knee-jerk fashion makes you reconsider and oftentimes overturn your initial decision to react. Responding instead of reacting is the strategy that has paid off more handsomely for me. My response here was to stick it out until the weekend, get a good night’s rest on Friday, and then make a decision with a refreshed and rested mind on Saturday.
Come Saturday. I woke up feeling a sense of freedom, albeit transient in nature given that Sunday presents itself as a regular working day within the Banking trade. I felt like an inmate who has been granted outdoor / yard time knowing that it is only a matter of time before he / she is given marching orders to scurry back inside. I was still resolved to inhale as much of this sweet smell of freedom as I could. My strategy was to go on a practice run, assess my condition during and after the run, and then arrive at a conclusion as to whether it would be physically feasible to carry on.
The weather couldn’t have been more conducive for a run. I managed to last for about 45 minutes, about 44 minutes more than I usually last in a certain other activity that is, for the most part, conducted indoors. I took a lot of heart from this practice session. I had exceeded my expectations, regardless of how humble my expectations were. More importantly, I enjoyed the process as opposed to feeling that I was inflicting torture upon myself during the activity. I was not ready to sell my bib as yet.
I wanted to ride this newfound wave of optimism for as long as I could. I woke up with a spring in my stride on Monday morning determined to kick the week off on a high note. Add another 45 minutes to Saturday’s 45. During the fag-end of this run, I had inadvertently knocked my apartment key out from my pocket while pulling my phone out to change the tune. With the music blaring in my ears, I kept trotting along naively unaware. A fellow runner, having picked up the key, came racing towards me to hand it back to me. I felt a sense of gratitude not just towards him, but towards humanity overall. I felt as if humanity was on my side and wholeheartedly rooting for me.
My third and final practice session, of approximately the same duration as the first two, was conducted on a treadmill on the Wednesday before the Saturday run. The work week leading up to Saturday was fairly demanding but very enjoyable nonetheless. The meaningful nature of the work kept my spirits high even when the going got tough. Thus, I was feeling mentally prepared; however, would these good mental vibes provide enough of a boost to my physical being?
Friday’s highlight was the Chipotle burrito that I treated myself to in the evening. It had the effect of not only replenishing my glycogen cells, but also making life seem somewhat burritoful. I woke up Saturday morning filled with nervous-excitement. A substantial part of this excitement stemmed from the peanut butter bagel I would be devouring prior to the run.
Notwithstanding the fact that the fellow half-marathoners on the subway ride to the starting point seemed substantially more prepared and confident than I was, I approached the Registration Booth in a fairly positive frame of mind almost as if I had nothing to lose. My self-deprecating sense of humour was also a source of comfort. I felt as though having the slowest pace amongst all fellow runners would allow me to ensure that no runner is left behind. This would even make the safety car redundant.
The eagerness and enthusiasm soon turned to agony as the rain, increasing in ferocity with each passing second, served to dampen my spirits. The weather typified the city of Manchester (UK), which is primarily characterized by cold, wet, and windy conditions. The physical discomfort during the hour or so that followed severely jolted my mental fortitude. I contemplated seeking shelter inside a Porta-Potty but the agonizingly long lines and the prospect of obnoxious odour deemed this option to be infeasible. Moreover, the “jokes” that the race moderators had up their sleeves in an attempt to lift our spirits were only making matters worse.
As I approached the starting line, I felt like a lamb leading itself to slaughter. I got off to a cautious start lest I exhaust myself too prematurely. Miles 1-3 were fairly smooth but 4-6 posed an uphill battle. Hitting the half way mark served as a pick-me-up before I hit a trough again during miles 8-10. Hitting double digits provided a much-needed psychological boost helping me race through the final 3 odd miles. Last but not the least, it would be tremendously unfair if I did not show my gratitude to Eminem for his uplifting music, my fellow runners for constantly keeping me on my toes, and the beautiful strangers spread across the entire course cheering us on with genuine love, smiles, and their witty and encouraging banners. It is this roller-coaster, along with all the experiences that it entails, that makes a half-marathon so much more than any other typical long run.
As I went past the finish line, a pint of dopamine was released into my brain. I took a moment or two to relive the entire episode. I felt great. Not just great – unprecedentedly great.
Sometimes one might not feel even remotely prepared for a challenge but so much of life is just bloody showing up and channeling your mental wherewithal to stick it out even when the going gets tough. In the words of Publilius Syrus – “A wise man will be a master of his mind; a fool will be its slave”.
With the pint of dopamine shielding me and drowning any embarrassment whatsoever, I took my shirt off in the middle of a parking lot packed to the rafters to change into my Manchester United jersey. I had an FA Cup final clash between United and Chelsea to watch. I was almost certain that the positive momentum from the brilliant start to the day would culminate in United lifting the Cup.
It wasn’t to be. United finished on the losing end going down 0-1. What could have been a perfect day was marred by this outcome. I reflected upon this eventful day and I couldn’t help but reckon that life has a way to clip your wings whenever you might be flying too high. These much-needed checks avoid complacency, build character and instill humility. It is this humility that keeps us on our toes thereby preventing instances of humiliation. The topsy-turvy nature of the day is also symbolic of the impermanent nature of our feelings and emotions, both happy and sad ones.
Notwithstanding this bitter disappointment, I dusted myself off to go enjoy a delightful Thai meal with my sister. I felt proud yet more humble and grateful than ever.